Unlocking the value of youth travel

A revealing new report from the British Educational Travel Association shows inbound youth and student travel to the UK is dwindling. Beta’s executive director Emma English comments on how the industry should react.

International travel for the younger generation is no longer a bucket list wish – it is a high priority. It provides powerful life experiences, cultural awareness and is an education in itself.

Travel transcends gender, nationality and age and is proven to provide young people with a better future as global citizens.

The British Educational Travel Association (Beta), which represents some of the biggest and best-known businesses in the youth, student and educational travel sector, has published a wide-ranging report entitled Unlocking the Value of Youth Student & Educational Travel.

The report draws its conclusion from a pool of 336 businesses, which represent more than 1.5 million youth and student travellers from 60 countries.

The results from this study, the biggest study of its kind undertaken in recent years, are a wake-up call for the industry. Inbound youth and student visitor statistics increasingly suggest that the UK is falling behind other destinations and we are losing hard-won market share.

The study shows that inbound youth, student and educational travel sector is currently worth £22.3 billion a year to the economy and the 14.9 million young people who visit the UK from abroad represent 38% of all tourists.

Although numbers have grown annually by an average 4.7% over the last five years, youth travel has slowed and is no longer keeping pace with the overall growth in tourism.

The study has revealed that while Britain is a desired destination with its rich history and culture and world-class education proving to be still a major draw, we cannot continue to rely on our traditional position as being the homeland for English.

Competitor destinations are growing at a faster pace than the UK thanks to better government support and a greater understanding of the importance of youth mobility and the lifetime benefits that travel can deliver.

Britain is losing its traditional reputation as a must-visit destination for young travellers wanting to study, tour and work.

A friendlier visa policy towards international students and visitors and aggressive marketing campaigns aimed at youth travellers has made English-speaking countries such as the USA, Canada, and Australia increasingly attractive to the young – especially those seeking higher education courses.

Ireland’s popularity for English language training has also increased because of currency fluctuations with the pound.

So what must we do to give UK youth travel the boost that it needs?

• The UK needs to improve its welcome
• It needs to review its complicated visa policy
• And remove international students from net migration figures, enhancing its ability to welcome the brightest and best to its shores

We know that attracting young people to the UK provides long-lasting benefits in addition to an immediate boost to the economy.

Social and cultural links from this type of travel can be felt over a lifetime through inward investment, global trade, employment, tourism and the overall competitiveness of Britain in the world.

The report has revealed that while 21% of customers intended to choose the UK as their first choice, they actually opted for a different destination in the end.

This means that one in every five youth and student travellers is potentially lost.

Long established markets such as Europe, which represents 76% of all youth travel visits to the UK, have peaked or are shrinking. Growth opportunities predominantly lie in Asia and the Middle East, where our visa policies make it difficult for young people to come to the UK.

Destinations that have been able to attract youth travellers en mass continue to reap the rewards, for example while young people account for 25% of all arrivals to Australia they also account for 44% of overall spending by international visitors.

We need government to champion our industry in order for us to prosper and to help us to unlock the value of youth travel.